In 25 MMA fights and 29 professional kickboxing bouts, Donald Cerrone has only been stopped once. And that was via submission, never once by strikes.
On Saturday night at UFC on FOX 6, Anthony Pettis not only finished him with strikes, but did it quickly at just 2:35 into the first round. Pettis ended it with a liver kick after taking Cerrone apart standing up to that point, making the whole thing look easy.
The winner of the fight was expected to be in line for a lightweight title shot. Champion Benson Henderson has been announced as defending his title on UFC on FOX 7, which takes place April 20 in San Jose, Calif., with Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez as his opponent.
There are lots of factors that are working to Pettis' advantage. The combination of how impressive Pettis looked with the fact he holds a win against Henderson - and that their previous fight was one of the most memorable fights in modern MMA history - made some wonder if UFC President Dana White was going to second guess the already announced title fight.
Pettis made his case with his fists and feet in the cage as well as his mouth, asking for the shot after the win. According to White, he'll get it, but not right away.
"I think that Melendez is pretty set, but [Pettis is] next," said White. "I can't say enough good things about this guy. He was incredible tonight. His big all-time highlight will be the kick off the fence. Today he was unbelievable. The knee off the fence was unbelievable."
Pettis was in this position once before. When he beat Henderson on Dec. 16, 2010, to become the final WEC lightweight champion, he was told that win would get him the next UFC title shot since WEC was closing down. He got so close that two weeks later, after champion Frankie Edgar retained his title with a draw against Gray Maynard, at the post-fight press conference, it was announced that Edgar and Pettis were meeting next. But barely an hour later, White, with more time to digest what happened in the Edgar vs. Maynard fight, changed his mind. Pettis could have sat and waited, but instead, he took a fight with Clay Guida. He lost that via decision.
In such a talent-rich division, the loss was going to take him out of contention for probably a year or more. That time frame increased when a series of injuries and a staph infection put him out of action since last February.
But Pettis simply denied the ring rust that many were expecting, as he entered the cage like he hadn't lost any timing. "I've been doing tae kwon do since I was five," said Pettis. "If you think about ring rust, you'll probably have it after a year off. Me, I couldn't wait to get back in there."
But he's in no rush to do it again. He learned the lesson of the Guida fight and right now will be happy to watch Henderson vs. Melendez and sit until the winner is ready to face him.
"If it's a guaranteed title shot, I'm waiting," he said. "Winning the title in 2013 is what my goals are."